Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners dissolve animal shelter advisory board

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Ten months the county revived its advisory board to the Porter County Animal Shelter, the County Commissioners undid the deed Tuesday with a 3-0 vote.

With two more tendered resignations from board president Toni Bianchi and member and County Council representative Laura Blaney, the Animal Shelter Advisory Board had been whittled down to three voting members this week.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the board, which started off with seven voting seats, now lacks a quorum and is unable to conduct business.

“Therefore, I recommend that we disband the Animal Shelter Advisory Board,” said Evans in a statement during Tuesday’s county commissioner meeting with fellow commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Carole Knoblock, D-South, voting in agreement.

The board was reformed last September to provide recommendations to the Commissioners about the day-to-day operating policies and procedures at the Shelter. Evans acknowledged the board had made significant improvements and said he was grateful for all the contributions they made over the months.

Disputes between board members began two weeks ago when the Commissioners announced their intention of starting talks with the Lakeshore PAWS about a possible deal to have the county provide the land and allow the organization to build a new Shelter facility with their own funds. According to the letter of intent, Lakeshore PAWS would be handling the operations. The county sheriff’s department would still be in charge of county animal control.

Board members Dawn Garmon, Rachael Jones and Ella Holst last week said they had not been included in discussions for the potential partnership and started listing questions they felt should be addressed such as would Lakeshore PAWS be able to run an animal shelter since it is only a rescue facility and whether the recommendations made in a feasibility study done by Shelter Planners of America were still under consideration.

Holst said she did not want the county to take its eyes off the task of getting another shelter built, fearing the talks with Lakeshore PAWS would steer away from that. Jones echoed comments made at the previous County Council meeting that the county needs to be open to other options.

However, Evans said that he would advise against the idea to “plow ahead” and build a $3 million shelter with taxpayer money when the Commissioners are negotiating the possibility that would cost taxpayers “zero” dollars. He added that more money saving ventures could be included with a “transfer of daily management” to the non-profit Lakeshore PAWS.

“It is shortsighted and irresponsible to make any judgment of decision before fully exploring this opportunity,” said Evans. “This negative behavior is counter-productive to our negotiations. It cannot be allowed to derail the potential benefits to the taxpayers and the animals.”

Blaney told the Tribune the Shelter Board has been outstanding in their effort to help Shelter director Jon Thomas turn the troubled facility around, but said the board had ultimately suffered from a lack of trust among the members, which is why she decided to resign.

“I think the board did a ton of really good work where help was needed, but it is time to turn the focus to a private partnership” she said.

Lakeshore PAWS president and co-founder Jeanne Sommer was one of the original Shelter board members who had resigned days before the partnership discussions were announced. Sommer said she left the board due to time constraints.

Blaney will however continue to be part of the negotiating team, which also includes a private donor who is offering to match funds that are raised.

Garmon said that she stands by the message of last week’s Shelter Board meeting where board members said they wanted to have the opportunity to evaluate the potential decision with Lakeshore PAWS and bring their concerns to the commissioners.


Posted 7/5/2012